COLUMBUS — After 12 years in service as an ammo pilot with the Air Force, Lt. Col. Paul Dorrance was faced with a decision: He could serve eight more years and retire at age 42, or he could leave the military and start a new career.
He chose to start a farm in Chillicothe.
“I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” said Dorrance, 40.
Dorrance, who owns the 111-acre Pastured Providence Farmstead, started his farm from scratch in 2013. He raises free-range chickens, grass-fed sheep and cows and pastured pigs. He works full-time on his farm but is also an Air Force Reservist.
He grew up in the countryside of New York and says he knew he would eventually come back to his roots. Once his first child was born, he began paying attention to what was in his food and decided to have a truly organic farm.
“I always had it in the back of my head that I’d come back to agriculture,” Dorrance said. “I became a believer in this type of agriculture and the benefits of it. And I see it every day. It’s not pretty, but it’s good.”
Data from the 2017 U.S. Department of Agriculture census for Ohio shows that there are 12,228 farm producers with a background of military service in Ohio. There are about 128,000 total producers in Ohio. A vast majority of the producers with military service are men. More than 8,500 of those farmers who are military veterans are 65 or older.
Veterans who farm may also have other primary jobs because just 52% of producers who are veterans said farming is their primary occupation.
Ivory Harlow and her husband, Kipp, are both Air Force veterans. In 2012, they bought Dickie Bird Farm and moved to the 45-acre operation in Chillicothe. They raise livestock and game birds.
“This was our dream to do,” said Ivory Harlow, who served four years in the Air Force. “We knew we wanted to do this while we were in the service.”
Kipp Harlow, who is director for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation for southern and central Ohio, said a lot of people who are in the military are from rural towns, which could be why they decide to farm once they completed their service.
“Really it wasn’t deciding to farm, it was getting back to our roots and getting involved in the lifestyle we enjoy,” Harlow said.
There are several resources in Ohio for people who wish to join the farming industry, Harlow said. The Ohio Farm Bureau’s Young Agricultural Professionals program teaches people age 18 to 35 how to start a farm.
The Farmer Veteran Coalition is a national agency that helps veterans who farm meet others with similar experiences.
“When you live on military bases and you’re in the military, you belong to this larger family,” Harlow said. “Everyone is away from their family so you create this nurturing environment. When you exit, you don’t have that anymore.”
Dorrance said the military develops a problem-solving mentality, and his farm often feels like that. He uses his task management and prioritization skills to succeed.
“My military background is that you take what you’re given and solve what you have in mind,” Dorrance said.
Ty Higgins, spokesperson for the Ohio Farm Bureau, said military life is similar to farming in that it is scheduled but also chaotic.
“They both know how to work hard,” Higgins said. “They both have grit. They both have a regime. The only thing the veteran needs to become a farmer is the dirt.”